This weekend, over 400 youth leaders from across the Midwest converged in Cleveland, Ohio to do some political organizing. Ohio is a critical swing state in the 2012 election, but these activists weren't coming to knock on doors for Mitt Romney or phone-bank for Barack Obama.
Instead, their mission was two-fold: continue to work together building the clean energy economy in the heartland, and two, stand up against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a major setback and threat for the Midwest.
Midwest Power Shift was one of the largest youth political conventions of the year and a clear sign that both parties should think twice about relegating climate and energy to the sidelines during the 2012 election. It's easy for the media or political pundits to quickly pass over such conferences, after all, what could a bunch of wild-eyed youngsters accomplish on their own?
Well, Occupy Wall Street has showed that we can accomplish quite a lot, actually. And if the energy at Midwest Power Shift was any indication of where we're headed, the youth climate movement is going to be making a serious impact in the months to come. More Power Shift summits are planned across the country, organizers are setting up shop in other critical swing states, and students up and down the East Coast are preparing to flood into Washington this November 6 to surround the White House in another major protest against Keystone XL.
More and more, students are getting out of the classrooms and into the streets. On Sunday, after organizing and planning for on-going action, over 400 people streamed out of Cleveland State University to march through downtown. Our first stop: the Cuyahoga County Democrats Office, and an office for the Obama campaign. We showed up not to lambast them, but to pass our message to the campaign, and to show them that we're a force to be reckoned with. Outside the office, over a dozen 2008 Obama Campaign volunteers stepped out and talked about how they had worked so hard to elect President Obama, knocking on doors, making phone calls, and being the organizing force behind Students for Barack Obama. And they showed that they're committed to continuing to use the grassroots organizing tactics that they learned on the Obama campaign, however this time to build the movement against the pipeline: clipboards were passed to sign-up for future trainings, and hundreds of people broke out their cell phones to call hundreds more people and recruit them to attend future rallies, like our November 6 encirclement of the White House. They showed that this isn't just a movement of complaining, this is a movement of doing that it's continuing to build steam and wont stop, no matter what.
One of the most inspirational parts of the weekend was working hand-in-hand with #OccupyCleveland. On Friday night we caught wind that Occupy Cleveland was facing eviction, so over 200 of us marched down to them to stand with them and show our support. As we entered the park, the crowd went wild, cheers broke out: "The People, United, Will Never Be Defeated!" We're coming together to stand up against big corporations and political cronyism, and it feels powerful. It felt powerful to have them marching by our side as we marched the streets of Cleveland, and visited the OFA office, to demand President Obama reject the Keystone XL pipeline, a pipeline riddled with corporate malfeasance and political corruption.
Something is stirring in America. Not just down at the encampments on Wall Street, but along the Keystone XL pipeline route in Nebraska, on campuses across the country, and right here in the Midwest. In 2008, young people rallied behind a candidate. In 2011, youth are rallying behind a cause. And that is what may just deliver the hope and change this country really needs.